By Jon Hurdle
17 minutes ago
TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia (Reuters) - Joy gave way to grief and anger on Wednesday when a West Virginia coal town learned that 12 of 13 miners trapped in a mine explosion had died, three hours after friends and family were mistakenly told that all but one had survived.
One man survived Monday's blast and entrapment at the Sago mine in central West Virginia. He was hospitalized in critical condition.
"I feel that we were lied to all along," said Anne Meridith, whose father died in the incident.
News of the 12 deaths came hours after church bells pealed and friends and family of the miners celebrated when word spread that 12 miners had survived. West Virginia's governor said there were indications within 20 minutes the initial report of 12 survivors was wrong. Friends and family were not told for about three hours.
"It hit people's hearts so hard ... One guy said what in the hell has God done for us, but just a few minutes before that we was praising God, because they believed that they was alive," John Casto, a friend of the miners, said on CNN.
Ben Hatfield, president of mine owner International Coal Group Inc., blamed the earlier report on a miscommunication. He said that the company had then waited until it could determine which of the miners were dead or alive to tell the families their fate.
Virginia Dean, whose uncle was in the mine, said: "Only one lived. They lied."
Meredith said she planned to sue ICG. The mine had been cited for numerous safety violations.
Several newspapers splashed headlines such as "Miracle in the Mine" on their front pages, which went to press before the truth emerged. "Alive! Miners beat odds" was USA Today's headline with a picture of two smiling family members.
Rescue workers on Tuesday night had located the 12, trapped about 13,000 feet inside the mine since 6:30 a.m. (1130 GMT) on Monday, when the explosion had spread lethal gases in the mine.
The sole survivor, Randal McCloy, 27, was taken to a nearby hospital where staff physician Dr. Susan Long said he arrived unconscious and in critical condition. He was stabilized with a breathing tube and sent to a bigger hospital, she said.
A doctor at West Virginia University Hospital later told a news conference McCloy was being treated for dehydration and a collapsed lung and was being kept sedated.
Terry Helms, found dead near the site of the explosion, was the first of the missing miners to be discovered. The later discovery of an empty transport car further away fueled hopes the 12 other men had escaped to an area where they could avoid toxic gases.
The sadness and fury that came after news of the 12 deaths contrasted with earlier jubilation after a man burst into nearby Sago Baptist Church where family members were holding vigil, shouting, "It's a miracle, it's a miracle!" and saying that the 12 men had been found alive.
Hope for the men had been tempered with caution because early tests found lethal levels of carbon monoxide. Each man carried only about one hour's worth of clean air, and there had been no communication with them.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said he had no idea how the miscommunication had occurred and the foul-up would be investigated.
Manchin said he was in the church talking to family members when he became aware of rejoicing that 12 had survived. He denied that he or his staff had ever confirmed the report and said he had begun receiving information that it was inaccurate 20 minutes after the announcement. He said it had taken almost three hours to correct the mistake because authorities did not want to get it wrong again.
"I can't tell you of anything more heart-wrenching that I have gone through in my life," he said.
There was no explanation for the blast in a recently closed section of the mine, which employs about 145 miners.
The incident came four years after nine Pennsylvania coal miners were rescued following a 77-hour ordeal in a flooded mine shaft 240 feet underground.
Since October, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued 50 citations to the Sago mine, some as recently as December 21, including citations for accumulation of combustible materials such as coal dust and loose coal.
The MSHA said in a statement early on Wednesday it would begin an in-depth investigation, including "how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' conditions."
The mine produces about 800,000 tons of coal annually
By Jon Hurdle